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Educators, students, win lawsuit against Secretary DeVos and Department of Education

A federal court ruled Friday that Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education broke the law by refusing to implement regulations designed to protect students enrolled in online higher education programs. The court ordered the Department to implement the rules within 30 days. The decision is a significant setback for the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda, and a victory for the National Education Association, the California Teachers Association, and students. The plaintiffs were represented by the National Student Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit organization that advocates for students’ rights through litigation.

The lawsuit challenged the Education Department’s delay of requirements for online universities to notify students about compliance with state licensing requirements, or adverse actions from a state or accreditor. Without these protections, students could spend time and money in programs that don’t meet their goals and may saddle them with debt for a degree that doesn’t advance their careers. The Department of Education admitted in its own filings that delaying the disclosures would “make it harder for students to access available consumer protections.”

While enrollment in online courses and degree programs has grown exponentially over the last decade, under DeVos’s leadership the Department took the shocking step of rescinding protections for students pursuing online degrees — protections students need now more than ever. The rules, which will take effect on May 26, also ensure that state regulators have sufficient tools to oversee online institutions, including schools that enroll students in a state without having a physical presence in that state.

“Time and again, Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have inexplicably and brazenly set their sights on rolling back vital protections for students, and in this case, did so unlawfully. The federal court’s decision is a victory for students, transparency and common sense.” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We must ensure that students have access to the critical information needed to make decisions about their educational opportunities and are protected from predatory attacks. We are thrilled that these protections will be there for our members and for all students who enroll in online programs.”

“Betsy DeVos’ latest move that removes students’ protections from predatory online universities is a direct attack on our students and their future. The common-sense disclosures help prospective and enrolled students evaluate the legitimacy of online programs and the institution that offers them. Without them, students like Stephanie Portilla could end up saddled with debt and stuck with a worthless degree they can’t use,” said CTA President Eric Heins.

“Now Betsy DeVos will be forced to implement the Obama-era regulations that allow states to regulate online programs wherever they enroll students. It has been clear from day one that Betsy DeVos has little regard for students. This decision, and others like it, shows she doesn’t much care about following the law, either,” said NSLDN President Aaron Ament. “We will not allow this administration to use illegal shortcuts to more quickly dismantle protections for students.”

According to the court’s order, the Department of Education has 30 days to implement the state authorization rule. Originally issued in December 2016 and scheduled to have taken effect in July 2018, the rule will protect students in online, distance or correspondence programs. The rule provides important protections, including common sense disclosures to help prospective and enrolled students evaluate the legitimacy of both the online program and the institution that offers it, preventing students from wasting time and money on programs that will not help them further their careers. The disclosures include information about whether the program would permit the student to meet the licensing requirements in the student’s state and whether the school is under investigation by the state or accreditor for its online programs.

The order is available here.


About the National Education Association: The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at and follow on Twitter at @NEAmedia.

About the California Teachers Association: The 325,000-member California Teachers Association is affiliated with the 3 million-member National Education Association. Find out more at and follow on Twitter at @WeAreCTA.

About the National Student Legal Defense Network: The National Student Legal Defense Network is a non-profit organization that works, through litigation and advocacy, to advance students’ rights to educational opportunity and to ensure that higher education provides a launching point for economic mobility. Learn more at and follow on Twitter at @StudentLegalNet.

Tags   Litigation